The Shortest vs. Fastest Route Dilemma Unveiled

Custom image shortest vs fastest route

All drivers need safe and fast routes.

Fast routes don’t mean unsafe routes, and they don’t mean driving 100 miles per hour.

When we talk about finding the best fast routes to multiple locations, we mean the automated usage of computer programs to quickly identify and determine the correct streets to travel throughout various times of the day for your benefit.

Distance-based routing is dead because the distance between major cities can be very short, and the travel time can last for hours.

Think Manhattan to Brooklyn, Manhattan to Newark, or New Haven to JFK airport. These types of trips can take up to 3 hours, based on traffic conditions, while being in extremely close proximity.

The fastest routes may involve traveling back roads, delaying the start of a trip by 30 minutes or an hour, or leaving 1 or 2 hours earlier. The dynamic nature of the routing game is what makes it both complex and exciting.

Ensuring efficient field operations is a top issue for most field service businesses. This is because even small reductions in transportation costs or driving time can add significant savings for the company. With this in mind, many field service businesses use delivery route optimization software to help their drivers find accurate driving directions from one place to another.

Yet, a sales rep might prefer a route with less driving time to spend more time with customers. In contrast, a delivery company that transports chemicals may choose a route that uses highways and avoids high-density city areas.

The “best route” means different things to different people and businesses. For most, the best route would be the shortest one. For some, though, it may be the fastest path. And some may prefer a trip that uses highways or avoids tolls and tunnels. To each their own!

Besides, the fastest or shortest route may not always be the most efficient route. For instance, the quickest route might have many left turns, and the shortest mileage route may drive through heavy traffic. In both these route options, your fuel consumption will go up significantly.

Also, what if the fastest route is three minutes faster but several miles longer? Is it still an efficient one?

What if the shortest path allows you to drive 5 miles less but makes you go through two tolls? Is it an efficient one?

Shortest or Fastest? Which One Should You Choose?

When planning a route, how do you know which type of route is best?

Your first option is to choose the fastest or shortest route.

Your second option is to choose a route that considers all the factors, including weather, road conditions, traffic congestion, customer delivery time preferences, vehicle capacity constraints, left turns, tolls, and tunnels.

Many successful field service and delivery businesses choose the second option. They realize that a common misconception is that the best routes are either the shortest or fastest when, in reality, planning routes is much more complicated.

Let’s look at real-life examples to understand the importance of route planning and why you should consider all the factors when planning and not just choose the shortest or fastest routes.

Custom Image - Route Planning Best Practices

Example 1: Delivery Service Businesses

Route Planning Goals: Avoid left turns, save fuel, and ensure driver safety.

Many delivery service businesses, or just those who deliver packages with their car, plan their routes while keeping fuel consumption and driver safety in mind.

For instance, rather than taking the shortest mileage route, UPS prefers a route with the least amount of left turns.

There are two reasons for this preference: safety and efficiency.

Left turns are considered more dangerous because the driver must navigate oncoming traffic, increasing the risk of accidents.

Also, avoiding left turns is considered fuel-friendly as the driver does not need to wait long at traffic lights to turn.

Want To See For Yourself How Route4Me Can Help Plan Well-optimized Routes?

Whether you want to slash the time it takes you to plan routes for your drivers, increase the number of stops they can make, or keep your customers satisfied knowing that your drivers show up on time… Route4Me helps you achieve that!

Example 2: Crowdsourced Delivery Businesses

Route Planning Goals: Timely deliveries and adhering to customers’ delivery time windows.

Crowdsourcing is one of the latest trends in the delivery industry, fueled by customers expecting same-day and two-hour deliveries. Since this model is based on speedy and convenient customer service, adhering to specific time windows is necessary.

Different types of customers, promised delivery times, and the types of packages being delivered and picked up are some of the many factors that dispatchers consider when planning the best route for such businesses. And the shortest or fastest routes may not work because they may not accommodate the specific time windows requested by some customers.

So, the best route is the one that allows the company to serve all its customers as per the specific time slots, reduces travel time, is fuel-efficient, and provides sufficient breaks for the drivers.

Planning the best route while considering all those factors will take an enormous amount of time if you do it manually.

However, a multi-stop route planner app can consider all those factors and create an optimized route for your drivers in less than 30 seconds.

image displaying how to create a delivery route

Example 3: In-Home Service Businesses Need to Route Fast

Route Planning Goals: Consistent service that earns customer loyalty and adheres to customers’ time windows.

The biggest challenge of an in-home service business is consistent service, which means providing customer service at the promised time and preferably with the same employee.

Unfortunately, the preference to assign the same rep or driver for a particular customer while honoring the specific time windows often conflicts with the shortest or fastest route.

Routing fast is more than allowing drivers to get to customers efficiently. It’s also about saving route planning staff and dispatchers immeasurable amounts of time over many years of repetitive day-to-day operations work.

Yet, in-home service businesses should prioritize customer satisfaction over quicker routes. So, they should plan routes by providing a “time window” and ensure the same employee visits the same customer at the committed time.

Multi-Stop Route Planner App

Download Route4Me’s multi-stop route planner app and get a free 7-day trial.
Multi-Stop Route Planner App

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Difference Between the Shortest Route and the Fastest Route

What is a shortest route?

A shortest route is the shortest distance from one point to another, minimizing distance or travel time. It’s the most efficient way to reach a destination, optimizing for distance or time constraints, and is crucial in navigation, logistics, and transportation for saving resources and time.

Is following the shortest route always better and safer?

Following the shortest route isn’t always the best or safest choice. It prioritizes efficiency but may overlook factors like road conditions, traffic, or terrain. Safety concerns and comfort may require alternative, longer routes, especially in adverse weather or high-risk areas. Deciding on a route depends on context and objectives.

Why is the fastest route more miles?

The fastest route often covers more miles because it selects major highways or expressways, which typically have higher speed limits. While it may be longer in distance, it allows for faster travel, reducing overall journey time. This is because it bypasses winding or congested routes that may be shorter but slower.

Final Thoughts about Shortest vs. Fastest Route

Delivery service businesses are more concerned with using an efficient route, while crowdsourced companies that survive on speedy customer service are looking for routes that are both efficient and accommodate the customers’ needs.

Whichever business category you fall in, finding the right route type will never be a “one-and-done” process. It will always be an iterative process, and you’ll find yourself balancing customer needs, transportation costs, and travel time.

Want To See For Yourself How Route4Me Can Help Plan Well-optimized Routes?

Whether you want to slash the time it takes you to plan routes for your drivers, increase the number of stops they can make, or keep your customers satisfied knowing that your drivers show up on time… Route4Me helps you achieve that!

About author: Rahul Dasgupta

Rahul Dasgupta is a content writer with over 20 years of work experience. He holds a master’s degree in computer science and has written thousands of blog posts on route planning and scheduling, making it easy for readers to learn about these complex topics. Rahul enjoys playing tennis in his spare time and loves cuddling with his pet labrador Shinu. Rahul is a big fan of Roger Federer, Messi, and Bill Gates - he admires their drive to be the best at what they do and their philanthropic efforts.


About Route4Me

Route4Me has over 40,000 customers globally. Route4Me's Android and iPhone mobile apps have been downloaded over 2 million times since 2009. Extremely easy-to-use, Route4Me's apps create optimized routes, synchronize routes to mobile devices, enable communication with drivers and customers, offer turn-by-turn directions, delivery confirmation, and more. Behind the scenes, Route4Me's operational optimization platform combines high-performance algorithms with data science, machine learning, and big data to plan, optimize, and analyze routes of almost any size in real-time.